Migratory houses
Текст: Lyudmila Smerkovich | 2014-03-26 | Фото: Illustration from the book of A.Barto "The house has moved" | 23879


For a long time a house has been one of the symbols of inviolability and safety. "My home is my castle", as Englishmen say. What is more, each house is a result of the work of many people: architects, engineers, constructors. To construct a building one has to find a complex design solution, to take the landscape and ground type into account, to find necessary materials and new construction methods. But the time goes by and city’s borders change, traffic arteries have to be expanded and old houses have to be demolished even if they are in a perfect condition and could stand for another couple of centuries. Fortunately, a house that hampers a city’s development cannot only be demolished, but moved as well. Today we will go into the history of development of one of the most complicated engineering industry branches, which is connected with moving huge ultraheavy buildings. That project impresses us greatly even now, though some of them were implemented as far back as the 1940’s.


Methods of relocation of stone blocks with a large tonnage have been known since the earliest times. For example, such megalithic monuments as Stonehenge in Britain, Maya temples in America, statues on Easter Island are proof. During the construction of the Pyramids in Egypt the giant statues, not only stone blocks, were moved with the help of wooden rollers, skids and lots of slaves. But a whole stone block is a one thing, but a whole house built of bricks or slabs – a bit different. It has its own complicated structure, doors and windows openings, it is built with reference to the place of its location, part of it is deep in the ground with its basement, entangled by infrastructure. Finally, it was never suppose to be moved. But from time to time there is a necessity to move houses, when they can not be demolished for some reasons – for instance, if they are of historical or architecteral value and to demolish them would be barbarian. Moreover it can be economically inefficient – sometimes it is cheaper to move a house than to demolish it and to build a new one.


With the chimes


The first known house relocation happened in the XV century. That was the bell tower of Santa Maria Majore in the city of Bologna, which was moved in 1455 by Ridolfo Aristotele Fioravanti – an architect, who some time later moved to Russia at the invitation of Ivan the 3d, where he constructed the famous Assumption Cathedral in the Kremlin. In Bologna he had to clear a space for a new building, but at the same time to save the bell tower – a stable and beautiful building almost 150 years old. The engineer dared to offer to the authorities to move the bell tower more than ten meters using a system of skids, blocks and casptan winches. They approved this crazy attempt and Fiorovanti made his risky project come true, thus becoming famous throughout Italy. The Bologna City Council awarded him the title of the foreman of the mason lodge, and provided him with a lifetime of support.

The bell tower weighed more than 1000 tons, the moving took several days. Preparation work took the longest part – they built wooden platforms, pitched axles into the ground and surrounded the tower with a wooden timber cage, so the walls did not crack during the relocation. Later Fiorovanti not only provided constructing and engineering works in the army (that were especially popular at that time), but also practised setting “leaning” towers upright, where his house-relocation experience was especially useful. He accomplished one of such projects in Venice – the tower of The Holy Angel church, but the project ended up in a disaster and the engineer’s reputation was seriously undermined. He had to reject the idea of moving one more tower in Florence, further he was accused of currency counterfeiting and deprived all of his privileges, although the accusation turned out to be false. At the end the architect accepted the invitation to move to Russia – he left Italy forever and died in a strange land.

Another interesting case of house relocation happened in the XIX century in Russia, in the small town of Morshansk, in Tambov province. That story partially became a legend and we can not be sure of its details, but at least one reliable document did remain – a report by the Morchansk mayor to the Tambov governor, Pyotr Andreevich Nilov. This is what the mayor wrote: “On the 25th of March 1812 the most unusual relocation of the Pokrovsky Church happened. A peasant from Koltsovo village of the Ryazan district, slave of landlady Zasetskaya, moved the church to the new place. The church warden paid 250 rubles for that. The church full of prayers, aloud with singing and church bells, was moved 42 archins (apprx. 30 meters) away from its place and during the move only a cross over the church swayed a bit”.

The legends of Tambov say that a slave carpenter Dmitry Petrov, who came to Morshansk with his team to earn some money, was fixing someone’s hangar when he heard about a trouble – they decided to build a new church out of stone, but they had no heart to demolish the old wooden one. So the master offered his “relocation” services to the church warden. At first no one believed him and he was offered a small pub to move at first, which was ill-placed in the background, and Petrov succeeded. Only after that was he entrusted to move the house of God. They decided to do it silently, during the vigil service, when there were lots of people in the church.

Masters prepared wooden rolls, horns and ropes in advance, the church itself was fastened from the corners with large iron anchors and bolts, wrapped in ropes, so it did not crash when being moved. Than they put logs under the basement, constructed an earth bank and lifted the church. There was a wooden boarding underneath and the church was “rolled” for the necessary distance. The moving was done so accurately and carefully, that people inside did not feel anything. At dawn, people coming from the vigil service were completely astonished when they looked at an unfamiliar place, where the church miraculously appeared to be.


Moving residences


In the middle of the XIX century, house relocation started to develop rapidly in the United States. The reason was in increasing prices for land in the towns and a drastic infrastructure change due to the large scale railway constructions. Americans thoroughly developed the technology out of the unusual constructing practice and began to move houses on an industrial scale. Primarily they moved small buildings, under 200 tones in weight, and mostly residential, not commercial – in the age of steam the problems of propriety and economic efficiency became common in America.

The most famous stories of house relocations at that time tell us about relocation immobility for a quite long distances. Once you could witness a phantasmagoric event in Delaver, when the whole village was floating down the river. Those were eight three-story buildings for the officers of the local fortification; they were moved to the river, rolled onto barges, taken to the water with the tide and unloaded 4,5 miles away from the previous place. Citizens of a small town of McDonu, Georgia, were deeply disappointed when they found out that a railroad was built a mile away from their homes and sought to change the project for their advantage. They were even ready to pay 30 thousand dollars for that. No one changed the project for their sake of course, but the chief construstor, major McKracken, offered a compromise – to move all of the houses to the constructed railroad for the same money. The citizens agreed and the whole town moved closer to the ways of civilization.

In 1870 a company that specialized in house relocation was registered in New York, thus this technology was ultimately secured by the United States. So when in 1898 they needed to move a just built apartment in the Kalanchevskaya str., Moscow, that blocked expanding access communications of the Nikolaevskaya railroad, they did not use domestic help (as the skills had simply been forgotten), but turned to the Americans. Fedorovich I.M. developed a relocation project and guided all the works. Families were transferred, the house was firmly tied with three steel belts; then they put a metal frame under the house and cut it from the basement. Fedorovich failed to find rigid beech or hornbeam wood used in America, so he used forged steal car axles instead.

The “Neva” magazine in 1898 published an interview with Fedorovich, where he described the project in the following way: “The building is fastened in three points across the walls with iron ties; there are spreaders in windows and doors. To make the house lighter we have removed plaster, all separations, doors and floors. Under the basement we have made holes in every wall, where we put rails connected with each other and forming a stable frame. We will put rolls under the frame and with the help of jacks and capstan winches the house will be moved further along the square made out of rails for 20 fathoms. A serious difficulty in our way is a foss. We had to cover this foss with soil, which took much effort, as we had to bring the covered area in a condition where it could bear the mass of the house, up to 100 thousand pounds (1600 thousand kg). There are 100 people and 60 horses involved. Four thousand rubles have been assigned for this relocation”.

The Moscow newspaper also attracted a lot of attention to the coming relocation, it had published experts’ opinions, mostly sceptical, that forecasted the collapse of the house, death for the workers and disgrace for Fedorovich. But the relocation was successful – the house was pushed by jacks and then drawn by winches along the curved track. The only hitch happened with a sudden groaning and the scared workers started running every which way; but it turned out that a nail got under the rollers. There were no other accidents and soon Fedorovich made a thorough report in the Russian Empire technical community showing all the stages of the process with the help of a “magic lantern” – a photographic projector of those times.

At that time, Americans were moving dozens and even hundreds of houses. In Boston a 2000 ton hotel was moved only a few meters when a street was widened. In New York, eight three- and four-story buildings were moved with the help of soaped logs; in Brooklyn the whole quarter of such brick houses was moved. Both small and big houses were moved, singles and groups, straight and diagonally, houses were turned, cut into parts, pushed up and down. A gloomy four-story mortuary building in Pitsburg, made of granite blocks and resembling a medieval castle, was moved sequenced in two directions and held down for 4,6 meters. A telephone station in Indianopolis – a brick building with steel frame – was moved for 16 meters and turned. As a rule the life of all those buildings did not stop: residents and guests did not move, the station kept connecting subscribers and anatomists did not stop their woefull work. But there were failures as well – at the beginning of the XX century a “Zum Hirsch” hotel in the city of Nagold, Austria, collapsed during the move, 53 people died under the wreckage.


Soviet wonders


A special epoche in the history of house relocation is the Soviet industrialization era, of course. Industry was developing rapidly, new roads were constructed, the faces of the cities were changing. “To catch up and outdo the West” was not just a point of honor, but an urgent need as well – apart from politics and ideology there was a true sincere passion – the whole country was experiencing a continious jerk from poverty and lack of culture into the bright future. The progressive socialist regime needed proof for its superiority over capitalism, the Soviet ambitions demanded all the best, unique and unequaled for the country and especially for the capital.

In 1934 a reconstruction plan of the capital was accepted, which required the widening of Gorkiy Street – “a street of heroes and demonstrations”, construction of the Lenin alley and many other changes. Many buildings, especially churches, were dealt with swiftly to stop them mixing with new buildings – they used dynamite. But at the same time there were lots of unique buildings, of which the Soviet people were rightly proud.

The first large project was relocation of the house on the corner of Osipenko Street that hindered rebuilding of the approaching road to the new Krasnoholmsky Bridge. The five-storey L-shaped building was divided by jackhammers from top to bottom into two parts; one of them was tracked by curved rails deep set into the block and rotated through 30°. It was pushed by 27 electric jacks, and all jacks rods of had different thread pitches to rotate the building. It was a huge success, the whole Moscow of knew of that, newspapers admired the work and discussed the advantages of Soviet engineering against capitalistic works. A new poem about a boy named Syoma by Agniya Barto (a famous Russian children’s writer) appeared in children’s books:


Syoma wasn’t at home for long

For vacations he had gone

Summer ended, he’s again

Back to Moscow by the train


Comes to known well corner but

There's no home, no gates, how’s that?

Rubs his eyes and blinks embarrassed

What is Syoma staring at?

House was here,

On that same place!

T’s gone with neighbors

And his mates!


The next step in Moscow’s reconstruction was widening of the Gorky Street from 20 to 40 meters. A mass relocation of residents from so called Savvinskoye Podvorye, now hiding behind the huge house Tverskaya № 6, started. The form of the four-storey Podvorye building resembled a laid down rectangular 8. It was designed by architect Kuznetsov and built at the beginning of the previous century. Two enclosed courts and arches connecting them made that building a separate complex. The house was pulled by two 15-ton hoists; ropes went through 20 ground-attached and 19 building-attached blocks. The mass of the building was 23,000 tons, an all-time high in Russia and abroad. About five hundred residents were not moved and they could still use all municipal services while the move took place. Pipelines and cables were supplemented with flexible sections, connected to external lines. The relocation lasted for three days with an average relocation speed of 6-10 meters per hour.

During the prewar years, 23 stone houses were relocated in Moscow, mostly from Gorky Street. Each relocation had its unique peculiarities. The moving of eye hospital to Sadovskyh Lane was one of the most difficult cases. Previously it stood on the corner with its facade overlooking Tverskaya Street. That building, looking like a letter “W”, was turned around 90° and then moved down the lane. The Mossoviet Theatre building was moved together with its basement; for that purpose workers broke ground and created a railed pit at the depth of 4 meters. Above the excavated pit a temporary bridging was built so that one could freely drive right to the doors of the theatre. The building was pulled with hoists and pushed by jacks at the same time. After 41 minutes it had moved 13 meters and was placed on the new foundation. It was one more record of relocation time to beat the US hollow, but it had its effects: walls and bridging were deformed, new cracks appeared. Later on during reconstruction and heightening 24 metal columns were integrated into the building. Now Moscow City Hall is settled inside, building still functions and defines the look of Tverskaya Square.


Nomads of today


Building relocation never stopped in our country, even during the Stagnation Era – in 1983 the old Moscow Art Theatre (MKHAT) was reconstructed; the building was cut from top to bottom, one of the parts was moved and in between them new walls and ceilings were built, thus widening the auditorium. There was not enough space for installation works between two old parts so it was decided first to move one of theatre parts 24.7 meters, and then move it back 11.9 meters. That relocation was to be the last one in the USSR: then began “Perestroika” et seq., so relocation was not first-priority work.

Currently relocations are frequently performed abroad, and foreign companies often provide relocation services in ex-Soviet countries. Relocation technologies are lost in our country, they are too difficult to manage, and there are no specialists able to fulfill such projects. Recently a Dutch company “Bresser Eurasia BV” relocated a building of historical importance in Baku. It is a three-storey house built in 1908, once owned by the Gadginsky brothers, known statesmen, enlighteners and patrons in pre-revolutionary Azerbaijan. In 5 days, the building weighing about 18,000 tons was moved 10.6 meters. Even in comparison with Soviet operations of the 1930’s it was considerable weight, and for the Dutch relocators it was a new personal record, although “Bresser Eurasia BV” has operated in the relocation market for more than 30 years with about 35 houses moved.

Here’s one more recent example. This year in Chene-Bourg, close to Geneva, Switzerland, an old railway station was relocated to build a new modern underground station in its place,. Preparation for that architectural operation took four months. On the 17th of July this year (2013) professional builders mounted a special hydraulic platform and rails by which the 710-tons building was moved 40 meters. Realization of that project cost 1.6 million US dollars. And last year in another Swiss city, Zurich, the building “Oerlikon”, weighing 6,200 tons was relocated. This project was more expensive – its budget reached 12.6 million US dollars.

Relocation business nowadays is a stable and called-for service. The Discovery Channel even releases program series dedicated to relocation, mostly – not very massive cottage-type houses. In some cases it is the cheapest option, when owners need to free space that’s already occupied by a house – foundation laying is much cheaper than construction of a whole building. Relocation technology hasn’t changed a lot since the XIX century and is less expensive than other types of construction works. In our country there are also some companies providing relocation of cottages, summer houses, garages and others alike – obviously the scale is not what it used to be.
About the reconstruction of Moscow
Demolition of The Strastnoy Monastery (Monastery of the Passion) in Pushkin Square in Moscow is almost finished. Bricks, debris and other waste are removed from the construction pit, soon they will begin asphalting over that area.
A few days ago on Gorky Street they started demolition work of even-numbered houses (from the Arts Theatre passage to Sovietskaya Square). In November construction of new multistoried houses will begin there.
A multistory house is being demolished on Vosstaniya Square between the square and Novinsky Boulevard. Soon part of the building will be blown up with ammonal to speed up the process.
On Serafimovich Street a 5-storey stone house soon will be lifted up with several jacks. In a few days the house will be put on rollers and moved by rails to its new foundations. Life goes on in the relocated house. Telephone, pipelines, electricity, and gas are provided as usual. At the same time, relocation to some 50 meters for № 24 Gorky Street is being prepared. However, all works mentioned above are done inordinately slowly. For example, the preliminary deadline of The Strastnoy Monastery demolition – the 20th of September – has already passed. There’s no guarantee that all other projects will be finished on time. The city council offers no help to the main contractor – Demolition and Relocation Trust. There are not enough workers because the Trust has not enough hostels for them. 
Newspaper “Izvestiya”, 27th of September, 1937.
About Osipenko Str. relocation
All service lines in the house work: telephone, water supply, gas, is delivered by special hoses. Tenants stay in the house. Relocation doesn’t violate their everyday living. Electricity and radio work is undisturbed. To prevent cables from breaking they were loosened beforehand. Everything functions well in the house and a special communication network as well. Instructions are given to the operating platform with sound signals.
There’s warning sounds that come from the control room: “Attention! Be prepared! A new relocation starts”. The control room moves together with the house. Special traffic lights that show “Stop” and “Move” signals were provided for controllers. Specialists in different parts of the house watch carefully how the relocation goes. They register all changes occurring during relocation. Levelers with special instruments check how the construction is moving. A new location pit is already prepared.
At last the relocation is done. The house stands on its new place. The leveler is checking the results. After 103 hours the right side wing was moved to 53.19 meters and left side wing 33.72 meters.
Journal “Technology to Youth”, 1937.
About the house on Serafimovich Street
“In a basement of the house, between the foundations and the building itself, there is still a massive metal frame on which that house was moved,” – says Alexey Bardashov, engineer from The Civil-Services Institute for Further Training. – “The frame was put on rollers and moved through a concreted pit to the new place. The tenants were not evacuated. The foundation of the house still contains embedded trolleys which were used for moving to the house 150 meters”.
After relocation, between the two separated parts of the house a 6-storey insert was built. And people continued to live here up to the 1960s, when an explosion happened. According to one of the versions it was caused by domestic gas, according to another – by break-up of the earth crust under the house. Part of house was ruined, many injured people were brought to hospitals, and those who were not hurt were rehomed, little by little. For several years the house stood there, half-broken, and then it was leased for offices and institutes. Of the previously “L” shape of the house, all that was left was the long straight part, the one which was relocated years ago, and the other newer part is not allowed to be reconstructed. Now, when 70 years after relocation have passed, its consequences become obvious: after moving one part of house was put on piles and other was not. As a result, that house’s sagging is uneven, walls are cracking, and eventually now that house is condemned.”
“Rossijskaya Gazeta”, 2004.
Modern relocation technology
Before moving of a large house a comprehensive survey must be carried out to know its real shape, size of walls, foundations and other elements of construction, and calculate it’s mass. In addition, a geological examination is performed to understand ground bearing resistance.
Before relocation, the building’s shear line is reinforced with supporting structures – a frame, and afterwards it is cut away from the foundations. Usually a shear line goes between the basement covering and the foundation bed. Cutting is performed with diamond tipped circular saws and flexible chain saws. Afterwards rails in the basement are installed. Interior webs are dismantled, covered with crushed stone and under-poured to make rails bed in. The rail tracks and sleepers are installed. After that, settling-in of running timbers and roller supports by which the house will be moved is performed.
The last of the preparation procedures is setting the house on rails. This operation is crucial: if different parts of the frame settle unevenly, cracks may occur and lead to disruption. The building is placed on running timbers to provide uniform uplift and descent of all house parts. The operation is performed using a system of hoisting jacks, which are now synchronized with computer equipment.
And at last the main phase starts – relocation. Depending on mechanical aids used, the building is moved using one of two possible methods: pulling with system of polyspasts and hoists, or pushing with hydraulic jacks.
After moving, the building is placed on a new foundations prepared in advance. Rails and running timbers are dismantled. To avoid uneven sinking, parts of rails are left where they are and merged with the foundations.
Architectural itinerant
The most authoritative and experienced relocation specialist in our country was Emmanuel Handel, engineer, who became the head of the Demolition and Relocation Trust in 1936. Handel was 33 years old at that time, but he already had some relocation experience. He started his professional career in Metrostroy, and its engineers who took part in underground construction were charged with investigating relocation technology in 1935, when it became obvious that dozens of houses were needed to be relocated.
First a small two-story building of a feeder substation was relocated 25 meters, because it hindered moving of street railways from Tverskaya to Sadovaya Street. Later six more relocations were performed: the laboratory of a gramophone record factory and five smaller buildings, to free space for the Moscow river-channel straightening. These test projects allowed him to check equipment and fitting-out. From 1936 to 1975 almost all relocations in Moscow were performed under the direction of Emmanuel Handel.
Scientific heritage of Handel – books and articles – thoroughly documents his engineering experience, nowadays they may be used to recreate, in the smallest of details, the methods of his famous relocations. Friends called Emmanuel Handel an “architectural itinerant”.
Illustration to the book А.Barto; a graphic artist К.Rotov.; photos oldmos.ru; news.qq.com.


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